Yours in a Hurry is at the printers. Those of you who've been following my Yours in a Hurry blogs or Facebook page will notice that some names have been changed. In the final weeks before submitting the manuscript, I had to do some soul searching. Choosing the names of our fictional characters is no easy task, especially when we start with a number of real historical characters whose names we can't change. For instance, Anna is a main character. According to the census, the maid of another real character is also named Anna. As she's German, she became Greta. It's fortunate that we can use "find and replace" in our manuscripts.
Rules for Writers
I noticed some rules on naming characters from a number of sources. I was able to stick with some, others not so much. Here are some examples:
1. No two character's names should sound alike; it will confuse the reader. Two of my actual characters are named Anna and Addison, so that can't change. I borrowed an Ohio neighbor's name from the time to develop a fictional character—Harry. I also found a name from the Los Angeles census of a neighbor in Anna's new home that I liked—Hiram. As the story develops, a historical figure, Harriet Quimby, becomes more important to the plot. Another actual Harry enters briefly later. So, I let go and the hometown Harry becomes Ernie, and Hiram becomes Joseph.
2. Be careful. Are there any ancestors who might take offense? Not in my family (at least in this generation), but the antagonists involved are loosely based on another family. Names were changed and the storyline is fictionalized. I didn't find any leads, but one distant relative of the family found me on Ancestry.com recently. No problem. Evidently the family was dysfunctional, so we shared what we'd found and had a laugh. She's going to be an early reader of the book.
3. When writing historical fiction, true researchers may not like your book. Some nonfiction authors who have worked diligently to read and study all the facts they can find out about your characters might take offense at your creative treatment of their subjects. When this happened around one of my characters, I reminded the author that if a layperson reads my work, there's a chance that more people will look at hers. She didn't rescind her comments, but was kind enough to send me one of her books. I'll reciprocate.
4. The name should be appropriate to the time period. It's easy to Google "names in 1900", but most of us who love history and historical fiction read enough in the genres that we have endless sources.
5. Don't make the names all short or all long—vary the length. I must say that I don't understand this one. Most of my friends have short names, and that doesn't bother me at all.
Guidelines Don't Always Mirror Reality
Have you ever met a woman named Toby? I have two friends with that name. Another friend's actual name is De-de. I doubt if these two names will show up as common when someone years from now Google's "names in 2000".
If you have any other tips or comments for writers, please send them my way by replying to this blog or on the Yours in a Hurry Facebook page.
Next time: Favorite Children's Verses
March is "Women’s History Month" when the United States Library of Congress and six other national entities pay tribute to women who have made their mark on society. In 1981Congress designated a week in March as “Women’s History Week." It took the National Women’s History Project to convince Congress to designate the entire month. So today I'd like to reflect on recent women I've grown to love. While writing Yours in a Hurry, the women in the story became increasingly more interesting. My great aunt Anna was gutsy to move from a small village to Los Angeles in the 1910's, but I know little about her life there. Here are three of the first American women aviators. Sadly, they are mostly forgotten.
Harriet Quimby, (1875-1912)
Harriet was famous long before she started working for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly--a journalist in San Francisco with Jack London, an actress and screenwriter with D.W. Griffith, drama critic, photographer for Around the World with a Camera (1910), and much more. She was also beautifully photogenic—dark hair, green eyes, model perfect and sophisticated. She is most remembered as the first American woman to achieve a aviation pilot's license.
She became interested in flying while writing about it. She was influenced by other aviators, especially John and Matilde Moisant. She earned her pilot's license on August 1, 1911. After an aviation exhibition in Mexico, her goal was to be the first woman to fly across the English Channel. She reached that goal when she took to the sky from England on April 16, 1912. She was probably disappointed in the tepid homecoming she received for her achievement. Not only was the public's attention focused on the Titanic disaster of April 14, but New York was in the midst of suffragist demonstrations. The independent, confident Harriet wasn't popular with those on either side of the issue. She wasn't sympathetic to the crowd mentality of the suffragists, and other New Yorkers evidently weren't in the mood to celebrate an assertive woman. Harriet continued flying and writing significant articles about aviation, social causes and issues of interest to women until her untimely death.
Matilde Moisant (1878-1964)
The Moisant Family was discussed in an earlier blog. After John became the first American aviator to cross the English Channel, his sister Matilde became the second American woman to achieve a pilot's license. Matilde was the first woman to fly in Mexico while the Moisant troop was there performing for President Madero's inauguration events. It was during that time that she and her troop became stranded for several months by revolutionists under Emiliano Zapata. Matilde was given credit for her handling of the difficult situation.
After retiring from flying, she remained active in the family business, developing and marketing aeroplanes and setting up aviation training schools. You can read more about this interesting family in Doris L. Rich's The Magnificent Moisants.
Blanche Stuart Scott (1885-1970)
The spirited Blanche Stuart Scott was the first American woman to fly in an aeroplane. She wasn't the first to get a pilot's license because, as she put it, all of her time performing in exhibitions should be enough to prove her ability to fly.
Blanche was born in Rochester, New York. She was most likely the first female in automobile sales. On May 16, 1910, thousands lined up to watch the freckle-faced red-head leave New York City in a white and silver Lady Overland automobile. The cross country trip was sponsored by Willys-Overland of Cleveland. Each side of the auto read, 'The car, the girl, and the wide, wide, world— New York to San Francisco'. Few roadmaps and only 218 miles of paved rural roads existed in the country.
Forty-two days later, the Lady Overland arrived in San Francisco and Blanche was an immediate celebrity. A Glenn Curtiss company representative soon recruited her to take up flying. After her air exhibition years, Blanche became a test pilot for Glenn Martin and then gave up flying at the start of World War I. She worked as a script writer, film producer, radio broadcaster, and aviation historian for museums. Before her death at age 84 she was the first woman to fly in a jet in 1948 as a passenger of Chuck Yeager.
Please mention these women to any young women you know who are interested in the arts or science. Harriet Quimby, a Renaissance woman with many talents, is one whose story we should especially remember.
Source: Library of Congress Women's History Month website http://womenshistorymonth.gov/about.html
Photographs: Library of Congress
Next time: What's in a Name?: A Writer's Dilemma in Naming Characters